Brandy production in the United States dates to the colonial era, when East Coast settlers made brandy primarily from orchard fruits, while West Coasters used grapes. How fitting that both traditions hit full revival in the Ohio River Valley at Louisville’s upstart Copper & Kings distillery.
By the end of the 19th century, there were nearly 400 brandy distilleries in Kentucky; Copper & Kings, started two years ago by South African transplants Joe and Lesley Heron, is now the lone producer of fruit-based spirits in the area. Copper & Kings makes a handful of bourbon barrel–aged brandies from both grapes and apples, as well as some beautiful, clear absinthes and the occasional gin.
“We’re more influenced by American whiskey and American music than we are by cognac,” says Joe. Indeed, music pervades the whole distillery, to the point that Copper & Kings practices sonic aging: five subwoofers are placed strategically among the aging barrels so the bass pulsation can encourage the alcohol molecules to interact with each other and the wood, enhancing maturity.
As I can attest, those pulses make for velvety brandies. Their California-grown grape brandies range from 1980s-Anita-Baker-coy-and-classy in the case of their Immature Brandy to the rich, seductive baritone rumble of Barry White in the guise of Butchertown Brandy. But I couldn’t get enough of the incredible American Brandy. It’s prog-rock versatile in cocktails, but more than able to hold its own on the rocks with a twist. There’s a new boss in brandy production, and fortunately for us, they’re just down river.